Is professional sport dying?

Is professional sport (or domestic sport as it was called during the amateur era) busy dying, especially in the southern hemisphere?

When one sees the empty stadiums in all three major sports in South Africa, it certainly looks like it. Even football, that is a truly global game played in over two hundred countries, is under pressure crowd wise in South Africa. Except for the Soweto derby between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, and to a degree the Mamelodi Sundowns matches, crowd attendances are sparse.

Rugby in the southern hemisphere is under pressure with Super Rugby losing support year on year. The stadiums are literally empty, with television viewership down in all three countries; the competition seems to be in free fall. Even international rugby in these three countries is under pressure, with only the All Blacks, England and British & Irish Lions being able to fill stadiums.

Domestic cricket in South Africa is dead and buried with there being no interest or support for the local teams. All first-class and fifty-over matches are played in empty stadiums; even the Mzansi Super League has not been able attract acceptable crowds for T20 cricket. The situation around the cricketing world is no different with the exception of England. However, once this generation of county cricket supporter dies out, English domestic cricket will join the rest of the cricketing world.

So what are the reasons for the professional game dying out?

The first reason is that there is too much live and televised domestic and international sport. Sport has lost its gloss because it has become too accessible and is no longer special.

The second reason is that there is a new generation of fans who don’t share the passion of the older generation for sport because of a modern day lifestyle.

In 2002 Rupert Murdoch, the founder of NewsCorp, wrote a critical article about professional sport. His punchline was “sport has lost its gloss and it is hard to see it survive the professional era”. Eighteen years later, as sports organisations struggle to survive financially and teams play in front of empty stadiums, the signs are certainly there.

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